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What Causes Dark Spots ?

dark spot causes

Dark Spots

There are various names used to define dark/brown patches that appear on different parts of the skin.

While we call them dark spots, they are also known as age spots, sun spots, brown spots, solar lentigines, hyperpigmentation or liver spots.

Although these dark patches have different names, these names almost always refer to the same thing which is the dark/brown patches on the skin.

With the simplest explanation; dark spots occur when melanin pigment is produced excessively in a certain part of the skin. Melanin, by the way, is the pigment that determines hair, skin and eye colour.

The more melanin your body produces, the darker your skin, hair and eyes are. In relation to that, for instance, people with albinism (albinos) have very light skin and hair colour due to insufficient melanin production in their bodies.

Dark spots on the skin vary in size and these dark colour skin patches, in general, appear on areas that expose to the sun’s UV rays.

Dark spots mostly appear on :

  • back of hands
  • tops of feet
  • shoulders
  • upper back
  • forearms
  • face

As dark spots are common in older adults, they are known by many people as age spots. However, young individuals too can develop these dark patches, especially those who are regularly exposed to UVR from the sun without sun protection.

The good news is that dark spots do not require treatment as they are not a health concern, according to Mayo Clinic (1).

However, these spots can cause cosmetic concerns for many people. If that is the case, a dermatologist will apply the best treatment method to remove or at least lighten these dark spots.


What Causes of Dark Spots?

We have briefly explained that these dark spots occur when melanin pigment is produced in large amounts on certain parts of the skin. But what triggers the skin to produce more melanin than usual in the areas where dark spots appear?

Let’s investigate these factors that can cause dark patches to develop.


1- Sun Exposure

Since the UV rays of the sun are the main causes of dark patches many people call them sunspots. When the skin is exposed to UV rays, it produces more melanin to protect itself.

In light of this, it is safe to say that unprotected sun exposure can pave the way for dark spots.

Scientific studies tell us that people with light skin colour and people who get sunburns are more susceptible to developing dark spots (2).

In fact, this explains why, in general, dark spots appear on the areas where the most sun exposure occurs, such as hands, shoulders, face, and so on.


2- Tanning Beds

Not only direct sun exposure but also using indoor tanning beds can set the stage for dark/brown spots on the skin. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association; people who tan can experience wrinkles, dark spots, loss of skin firmness and leather skin at early ages (3).


3- Hormonal Changes 

Hormonal changes are associated with various skin problems. Acne is one of the most common skin problems that can occur due to hormonal changes in the body. In addition to acne, dermatologists indicate that dark spots as well can arise as a result of hormonal changes (4).

Hormonal imbalances and changes can occur in the body during menopause, pregnancy, and puberty. That indicates women who experience menopause and are pregnant may develop dark spots.

Fluctuations in hormones in these periods such as pregnancy and menopause can stimulate melanin production thus causing dark (brown) patches.


4- Drug-induced Dark Spots

As mentioned above a number of factors, such as sun exposure and hormones can trigger excessive melanin production thus causing dark spots.

Another factor that can stimulate melanin production in the body is some prescribed drugs (5).

The use of these drugs can lead to hyperpigmentation, which translates into brown/dark skin patches on the skin.

The following drugs are associated with dark spots (6):

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs,
  • Antimalarials,
  • Amiodarone,
  • Cytotoxic drugs,
  • Tetracyclines,
  • Psychotropic drugs


5- Skin Conditions

Some inflammatory skin conditions are known to cause dark or brown patches on the skin.

Among these skin conditions, eczema, acne and psoriasis are the most common skin conditions that are linked to dark patches.

According to AAD; insect bites, cut, burns and other skin injuries as well can trigger extra melanin production and thus may cause dark patches to form (3).


Risk Factors for Dark Spots

There are some factors that can make you more susceptible to developing dark spots on your skin. These factors include:

  • Being a woman
  • Being older than 40-year-old
  • Not using sunscreen
  • Using tanning beds
  • Using certain drugs ( mentioned above)
  • Being pregnant
  • Having Fair Skin
  • Frequently getting sunburns


Do Dark Spots Go away On Their Own?

Dark spots can go away on their own as long as the underlying cause is eliminated. When exactly these dark/brown spots leave the skin mostly depends on how deep and dark the spots are.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association; if the spots are a bit darker than the skin colour it takes 6 to 12 months to fade (3).

On the other hand; if patches are rather deep and dark they can take years to fade.

Note: Treatment can accelerate these spots disappearing time.